17.2.14

MELODY MAKER IN 1972

Last week’s news that the circulation of New Music Express was now less than 20,000 a week and that Q was struggling to reach 50,000 a month saddened me, and in today’s Guardian David Hepworth comments on how the power of the music press to promote worthwhile acts has diminished, to everyone’s detriment. A voice with the power to nurture quality, integrity and objectivity in music is being silenced by the internet. Once upon a time…

In the spring of 1972 the editorial staff of Melody Maker attended a party at the Wig & Pen Club to celebrate the fact that we were now selling 200,000 copies a week. We were all there, Ray Coleman, Richard Williams, Chris Welch, Michael Watts, Roy Hollingworth, Mark Plummer, Max Jones, Laurie Henshaw, Allan Lewis, Andrew Means, Barrie Wentzell and yours truly. To me those names now read a bit like a cup-winning football side, like a long forgotten Man U or Leeds or Arsenal side that took all before them and exist today only as names in record books.
          After a short speech congratulating us all on the fine work we were doing, editor Ray announced that Melody Maker would henceforth send one of its staff writers to live in New York and report back on the world of American rock. Also, there would be an American edition, printed in Queens, which would be ‘edited’ by our man in New York, trimmed down to 40 pages from the UK edition which by then had anything up to 96 pages a week.
          The position of US correspondent would not be permanent. Instead Roy Hollingworth, the first London-based reporter to be given the job, would stay in New York for six months whereupon he would be replaced by another member of the staff. After a boisterous and emotion-packed leaving party Roy duly flew off and settled into a fancy apartment on Sutton Place, an upmarket neighbourhood on the Upper East Side.
          To say that Roy distinguished himself in the role would be an understatement. Within weeks we were publishing stories and interviews of all that was great in the world of American rock music, and first-hand accounts of US tours by UK artists. Also, now that we had a presence in the country, UK acts could no longer exaggerate their US popularity as they had been doing for years. The only downside, at least from Roy’s point of view, was the vexing question of the American edition. Each week he had to spend a day and most of a night at the Queens printing plant, deciding which features would and would not be in the US edition. He also had to deal with the men who worked at the plant and, knowing Roy as I did, there would have been an interesting culture clash if unionised American working men are what I imagined them to be.
          The US edition was soon abandoned, the victim of IPC’s failure to pay graft to the right people in the world of American magazine circulation. IPC’s New York office was run by a transplanted Englishman of the old school, a Colonel Blimp type who saw no reason to pay bribes to shady characters to ensure that the American edition of MM hit the newsstands in New York and elsewhere, and as a result most of them ended up in a garbage dump somewhere near JFK Airport. The few that did hit the streets were never displayed prominently on newsstands but hidden away beneath other magazines where they couldn’t be seen.
          The IPC office was in the Chrysler Building with its magnificent art-deco spire and they had set aside a room where Roy could work, not that he used it very much. This was the days before faxes and e-mails, so each week he would type up his interviews, show reviews and a New York news column and parcel up the sheets of A4 paper for a courier to airlift to London. Anything urgent could be sent via the ticker-tape machine which was operated by a girl in the office.
          After six months Roy returned to the UK in triumph to be replaced by Michael Watts, but Roy was never the same again. New York did something to him and the damage was permanent. In NY he’d stepped out with a clever and beautiful girl called Iris who was Ahmet Ertegun’s secretary at Atlantic Records and, subsequently, Jann Wenner’s PA at Rolling Stone magazine. Back in the UK Roy pined badly for her so she followed him across the Atlantic and, for reasons unexplained took a course in French somewhere near Marseilles. It was a standing joke in the office that on Fridays Roy would have a 'slight headache and a return ticket to Marseilles'. When Iris returned to the US, Roy left MM and followed her, settling into Iris’ family home in the Bronx and embarking on a messy career as a singer songwriter.
          Michael Watts’ six-month stint was extended to something like 10 months and the final two were spent in Los Angeles where he stayed at the Chateau Marmont Hotel. This was a temporary measure until he found an apartment but in the event assistant editor Richard Williams left MM in the summer of 1973 to become an A&R man at Island Records and Mick was recalled from LA to become his replacement. I was duly sent out to replace him, eventually moving to New York, and due to internal changes and other unforeseen developments in London would spent the better part of three and a half years as MM’s US correspondent, far and away the longest term of anyone who did the job.

1 comment:

  1. Chris,

    You're right - some of those old staff line-ups DO sound much like a great football team.

    ReplyDelete